Large-scale job cuts and the government’s disdain for the underprivilged lead to a crisis of community
From the start of the corona virus crisis up until mid August, there have been almost 750,000 job losses in the UK. That means at least over 500,000 households have been badly affected already and it is almost certain that the number of job losses will continue to rise because nearly every day large companies announce they are cutting hundreds of jobs.
Yet, somehow this fact is not mentioned often enough by the government as their major focus seems to be on insisting that they have everything under control and that once they can get schools and pubs open, all will be well. But these job losses are bound to be devastating to a society which was anyway still struggling to recover from the global economic crisis of 2009, followed by a decade of Conservative governments’ ruthless cutting of social services and benefits.
While the government is now (somewhat understandably) preoccupied with trying to stabilise the economy, it is unclear if it realises how devastating the pandemic is going to prove in social terms. Thanks to Tory policies, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened considerably. The cutting of service such as public libraries, adult education removed a whole world of opportunity and community from the lives of people with little spending power.
The closure of public libraries was, in my view, unforgivable. Public libraries provide a space where knowledge can be accessed without any purchase needed. People from all walks of life could rely on the library to provide a welcoming space for them to discover new worlds through reading, to sit down and do their homework, have access to computers and internet facilities, print out work and make photocopies at subsidised rates, or just sit and read the newspapers or attend community events. And this was somewhere people of all ages would gather - while in one part of the library you might find a group of mothers with babies and toddlers at a reading or play session for children, in another part you would find a cluster of elderly individuals chatting and reading papers and magazines. The library could provide warmth and light in the winters and shade and calm in the summers and there would always be access to and information about things happening in the local community. It helped to bring local people together as you could at least recognise members of the community from having seen or met them at the library.
What is the nation going to do about the scores of young people unable to find work, the middle-aged employees laid off from what they thought were safe jobs or the many, many self employed people who are now left with a failed business? What is all of this going to do to the social fabric of Britain?
But the Tories’ ‘reform’ of the benefits system also threw many working families into crisis as they could barely afford to feed their families. The changes to welfare policies such as the withdrawal of disability benefits and the rollout of the system of /universal credit pushed many families and individuals into reliance of food banks to access emergency food supplies. The number of food bank users had already risen sharply after David Cameron and the coalition government’s so-called ‘austerity programme’ but after the corona virus pandemic there has been a huge surge in food bank demand. For example, one food bank in Bristol recently reported that while last year around 2000 people used their services, this year the figure has jumped to 7,000 - that is it has more than tripled since last year. Thanks to Brexit, food prices have risen and with more and more people out of work and struggling to survive, these food banks, which rely on donations themselves, are now helping many people stay afloat.
But it is not just food that is an issue — the crisis has had a terrible fallout in other ways too. The isolation has led to loneliness, mental health and alcoholism related problems. And the national children’s helpline has recorded a sharp increase in the numbers of youngsters calling in about physical and sexual abuse (these have more than tripled). Vulnerable children who would normally be monitored by social workers in the community and by teachers at school have lost vital support networks and protective safeguards. And even those not in situations of violence or abuse have, to a great extent, lost their sense of themselves as social beings.
Measures will be taken to ‘fix the economy’ and get the key economic indicators rising again but what about considering how to fix our communities and heal the social rupture that Britain is dealing with? The government is giving people a 50 percent discount when they eat at restaurants that are registered with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, but it’s almost a travesty that people are being subsidised to dine out when an increasing number of people can barely afford to eat at all…
What is the nation going to do about the scores of young people unable to find work, the middle-aged employees laid off from what they thought were safe jobs or the many, many self employed people who are now left with a failed business? What is all of this going to do to the social fabric of Britain? It’s not just about the economy, rebuilding needs to be done in a joined —up way…